Nurse Helpers Spark ‘Cut-Price Midwives’ Row

A NEW team of nurses – dubbed “cut-price midwives” by critics – are about to start work in Scotland’s maternity wards in a controversial bid to reduce staffing shortages.

The newly trained maternity care assistants will support midwives and new mothers in an attempt to address allegations of a “conveyor belt” culture in childbirth.

The first of the new workers – former auxiliaries with extra training in childbirth and childcare – will take blood samples and monitor vital signs during labour, such as blood pressure, temperature and pulse. They will help new mothers with breastfeeding, nappy changing and bathing babies.

Twenty staff are due to begin work immediately, 40 will be employed by the end of the year, and health bosses hope to have as many as three in every maternity unit in the country.

But while the scheme has the support of the midwifery profession, childbirth groups claim it is “midwifery on the cheap”, and a potential threat to the safety of mothers and their babies.

The move follows similar changes in NHS staff jobs that have seen nurses trained to carry out some of the duties previously performed by doctors.

Each of the new maternity care assistants will earn between £16,856 and £20,261 a year, compared with between £19,683 and £60,880 for a midwife.

Anne Marie Rennie, health and midwifery lecturer at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, who is leading the training, said the maternity care assistants would help out at straightforward births and assist mothers afterwards.

Rennie said: “This is to help us achieve targets on breastfeeding and smoking cessation and to give continual support. The maternity care assistant would be like a doula, supporting mothers and the midwife .”

But Beverley Lawrence Beech, chairwoman of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, which represents patients and staff, said there were serious concerns about the move.

She said: “Midwives are trained to assess the implications of tests and readings that she has just done. Maternity care assistants will not be trained to do that, so there is a potential for her to miss something very important.”

And Sheila Kitzinger, of the support group Birth Crisis, said: “We would not want untrained or minimally trained people taking on this role. A pilot of this scheme is important.”

But Gillian Smith, acting director for Scotland of the Royal College of Midwives, insisted the move would help midwives to care for mothers. She said: “We’ve had a commitment from heads of midwifery that this is not about putting these people in and taking midwives out.”

Scotland’s maternity services have recently suffered a series of problems. In some cases, mothers have been moved to nearby hospitals because of a lack of beds and are often encouraged to leave hospital within hours of giving birth. Meanwhile, Scotland’s birth rate is rising.

Earlier this year, a report by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland found a lack of staff was preventing maternity services in Scotland reaching the highest standards.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon said: “Maternity care assistants will free up midwives’ time to maximise their role.”